What fun is a scandal if you don't even have time to make fun of it?
No, wait, let me start over....
Representative Chris Lee just set the Washington speed record for scandals, clocking in just under an astonishing three-and-a-half hours, from start to finish. This stunning display of the warp-speed nature of living in the 21st century will likely become the gold standard speed record of Washington scandals for some time to come. Or maybe not... maybe we'll enter into a cycle of ever-quicker scandals erupting and concluding with blinding speed.
The Chris Lee scandal unfolded fast. Really fast. It unfolded so fast, comedians didn't even have time to write jokes about it. It happened so fast, liberals didn't even get a single gleeful day of poking fun at the New York Republican. It happened so fast that nobody even had time to turn it into a "-gate" word! That's really fast indeed. The closest I've come across is the "Craigslist Congressman," which is amusing but not really on a world-class level, when it comes to slapping a cute label on a scandal.
A quick review of the timeline, in case you missed this whirlwind scandal:
2:33 P.M. -- Website Gawker posts email exchanges between an unnamed woman and someone calling himself "Christopher Lee." The married congressman appears to be lying about himself and hitting on a woman he found in the "personals" section of Craigslist. Photographs are sent to the woman, one of which bears a striking resemblance to a shirtless Lee, flexing a bicep in front of a mirror.
Later (sorry, don't have an accurate time for this one) -- A staffer at Lee's office, in response to the breaking scandal news, attempts to do some damage control by stating that the congressman has sold some furniture on eBay, but never done much of anything else on the internet. Dark intimations that someone has "hacked" the congressman's email are floated, as well.
Later (sorry, no time) -- Fox News gets a "gotcha" interview with the congressman as he's heading for his car, where he mumbles: "I have to work this out with my wife."
6:00 P.M. -- The House Clerk reads Lee's resignation statement out in the House of Representatives. Lee issues a statement right out of the "Boilerplate Scandal Response Playbook" -- "I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness."
Now, admittedly, by Washington standards (even by Washington sex scandal standards), this wasn't all that scandalous, really. No sex was even involved. No prostitutes were involved, nor were: diapers, men's rooms, "wide stances," underage pages, dead bodies, people working for the congressman, piles of money, piles of cocaine, political favors, lobbyists (unless you count Lee's misrepresentation of himself as a lobbyist), group sex, "tickling," payoffs to husbands, cigars, berets, Oval Offices, Oval Office hallways, love childs (love children?), wives with cancer, sexual harassment, Appalachian Trails, South American countries, videos promoting "traditional family values" made with your mistress, love shack apartments, train rides from New York to D.C., "dictation," boats named "Monkey Business," nor (just to cover all the bases) "a live boy or a dead girl." In other words, as political sex scandals go, this one was fairly tame. Seriously, who among us can't name most of the politicians I just referred to in that list?
But, relative salaciousness aside, what impressed me about the entire episode was the speed at which it ran its course, from initial exposé to resignation. Three hours and twenty-seven minutes after the story broke, Western New York needed a new congressman. Complete with a denial, a wild accusation, and a flip-flop -- a bare two hundred and seven minutes later.
I don't mean to get all schoolmarmish here, of course. It is up to each individual politician caught up in such a scandal to decide how best to ride it out -- by sticking to your job in the hopes the voters will forgive you, by outright denial, or by throwing in the towel. I personally don't care with whom politicians get their jollies in bed, I care much more about them whoring themselves to various people and groups for campaign contributions. The only time a politician's sex life becomes germane to me is when the politician in question has made a career for himself (or herself) out of telling other Americans how they should conduct their own sex lives. Because that opens a rather large door entitled "Hypocrisy" -- and calling out politicians on their own hypocrisy is always fair game to me.
But this scandal erupted and subsided so quickly, there wasn't even time to research whether the guy was some sort of "family values" cheerleader or not. By making such a quick exit, Chris Lee has spared himself further time under the microscope. You've got to at least hand him that -- while a few jokes will be told about him on late-night television for the next few days, by this time next week, most people won't even recognize his name any more. A quick exit does indeed have its benefits.
Because Lee hasn't been accused of doing anything illegal, I don't have a problem with him wanting to fade fast from the public's consciousness. I might feel a bit different if he were my representative, though. But since he's not, there isn't really any reason to follow his story any further. There's been no suggestion (of which I'm aware) that Lee's online attempts at dating have had any impact whatsoever on the job he was doing -- in any way, shape, or form.
So I'll let him exit the political stage without further mention. But I can't help but wonder if "pulling a Lee" or "he's going Chris Lee on the scandal" might not become part of the political lexicon, to describe the hastiest of post-scandal exits. Because if nothing else, Chris Lee has set what appears (at this point) to be an unbreakable speed record for his sex scandal response. I don't know if he jumped (decided on his own to avoid the spotlight as much as possible with a fast exit), or was pushed (got told by the Republican leadership that it was time for him to go); but for whatever his reasons, the Chris Lee Gold Standard set a new mark for a new century in American political scandals.
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant